Archaeology student Molly O’Connell highlights the significance of the Glendalough: Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland.
Glendalough: Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage, located in a small exhibition space in the National Museum of Ireland (NMI), may appear less flashy than its neighbouring displays, but it is by no means less important. Considering the significance of Glendalough to early Medieval Ireland, as a centre of faith and economy, together with its significance to the Irish archaeological record and our cultural psyche, it is surprising that Glendalough was not represented in the museum previously. However, until ten years ago, little archaeological investigation had been conducted at the Glendalough site. Now, Power, Prayer and Pilgrimage reflects the recent re-interest in the site, evident by the high visitor numbers and annual archaeological excavations carried out by UCD’s School of Archaeology and the Glendalough Heritage Forum. Most significantly, Glendalough was recently considered in Ireland’s bid for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
[These artefacts] evoke the quintessentially Irish nature of Glendalough in the name of the growing Nationalist movement.
The small-scale exhibition encapsulates the dynamism of Glendalough as an archaeological landscape. Visitors, on entering the darkened space, are first struck by a short informative film, which brings them through the landscape and the major heritage sites. In the centre of the space, is a large bronze-coated iron bell (8th-9th century), donated by the Archdiocese of Dublin. Visitors can then follow Glendalough’s development through the centuries as they walk between display cases. The artefacts succeed in representing the many aspects of Glendalough accumulated from the past decade of excavations, as well as a 1950’s excavation. Stray finds, such as a leather pilgrim’s shoe, private collections, and modern objects, such as Belleek delph from the late nineteenth century, evoke the quintessentially Irish nature of Glendalough in the name of the growing Nationalist movement.
...[the] exhibition includes important artefacts found by UCD students and community volunteers on our long-running training excavations.
The NMI compensates for the small exhibition space by providing a wealth of resources about the exhibition online, including lectures, interviews, post-primary learning kits and details about each artefact. The NMI recognised the importance of online content, particularly as this exhibition launched September 2020, after which NMI faced several Covid-19 related closures.
While Glendalough’s landscape and the museum’s exhibition is significant, the showcase is especially important to the UCD community, due to the School of Archaeology's input. The School has dug in Glendalough every year since 2010 (with the exception of 2020), providing excavation experience, for both the local community and UCD archaeology students. Graeme Warren, Co-Director of the excavations, said that he and the School of Archaeology were “delighted to continue the collaboration with colleagues at the NMI…. [the] exhibition includes important artefacts found by UCD students and community volunteers on our long-running training excavations immediately adjacent to the main monastic complex”. The exhibition represents an important link between UCD and the wider heritage community in Ireland, which the School of Archaeology has been developing since its establishment. The exhibition is currently open to the public. Tickets are free, however, booking is required.
More information can be found here: https://www.museum.ie/en-IE/Museums/Archaeology/Exhibitions/